No Season cover

No Season

John W. Evans

Copyright © 2011 John W. Evans. All rights reserved.



One Month

The first job you take after your wife dies suddenly
will be mindless, easy to manage, with flexible hours:
the job you've spent your whole life avoiding.
It bores you to tears. You think, Ten hours a week
and it doesn't even cover the therapy, pills, and gas.
The clerks at the all-night grocery rotate shifts:
sunflowers shrinking into the vase on her desk,
an altar of trinkets, her photo in a simple frame.
In the end, what more is there to say
about these long afternoons when the sun
stands solstice in between the coming and going,
you in your black t-shirts and stain-resistant chinos,
as whole weeks announce the end of summer,
a full moon dimmed by the glow of the city,
these nights when the neighbors fire great floodlights
at the lawn beneath their windows?


Twenty-Two Months

Rent in the neighborhood is dropping.
Rent everywhere is dropping. Can you spare
a little CHANGE,
asks the sign where my bank,
merging with the bank across the street,
fails. I want to own land in my country.
I want to make my place in this city certain.
The fish in the bar next to the laundromat:
do they know the limits of their translucent world?
When my wife died I thought,
All within us praise His holy name,
His power and glory ever more proclaimed.
Even then I knew that life didn't really end,
that it would fissure into two places,
inside and out. The woman I love now
distinguishes absence from loss.
When there is no fog on a nearby hill
we walk through her old neighborhood
to the city's highest point.


Nineteen Months

That spring I pursued the other side of anxiety.
I measured exact distances wherever I went:
days since your death, weeks until your birthday,
how many steps it took to cross the interstate park
where every three weeks the billboard changed
until Oscar season. How I missed being in love.
How I wanted to explain: I miss being in love.
The night your brother stopped talking to his wife
I knew it meant I'd have to choose sides.
I sat dumb and silent, smiling weakly at everything.
At the climbing gym he got faster up the hard-candy steps,
his fingertips smooth and dull. Your nephew
and I registered online an animatronic vulture
whose virtual home contained separate rooms
for each family member. The week he finally
blew out his back your brother slept on the sofa.
He said he didn't want to wake the kids.
Each time he hobbled to the medicine cabinet
the television drowned out his sighs and moans.
I sat in my room listening carefully to music
I knew would make me weep.
Sleeping pills erased the dark room.
Through the window his truck engine turned over four times
before it began its morning loop around the city.

Tuck Pointing

Three Months

I dig out the black sweater I brought from the home
that is no longer our home the way
you are no longer my wife
and withdraw again into your brother's city
that resembles no place we ever lived together:
blank trees overhanging immaculate lawns,
strip malls with burrito shops and tanning salons,
children who make games with their boredom.
He offers me work as we walk between houses.
He points out the chimneys that need replacing,
how the neighborhood practices neglect.
No piece of this landscape resists our expectations.
Some nights I sit up chewing antacids or cough drops,
thinking how we'd walk the buckle of avenues,
catching up on the smallest details of our time apart.
It was the last time I saw you alive:
yesterday, last night, a few minutes ago.
We once spent six years trying to decide what we'd do next.


Twelve Months

Let's fall in love again. Let's travel again. Let's make ourselves uncertain
with the prospects of a new city
again, fly down the freeway to South Florida
or on someone else's dime to South Asia or Eastern Europe again,
make a home for the year somewhere unknown again—
Let's live where the rivers flood the cities every spring again,
or behind the park with the empty lake
boats tied down in the channel for the fall again—
Let's eat too much and walk the whole way home again,
past the Bolivian delis and Ecuadorian patisseries
with glazed sugar chips and candied berries
again, currants in molasses again, espressos light as cream
at the Orthodox-run vegetarian-everything cafe again,
the beer gardens with pizza or the Lebanese joint's
zacusca, lapte, and mamaliga in smantana again—
Let's name everyone but only know each other again,
forget the guidebooks and find the buildings again—
Let's eat Moldovan apples and Turkish baklava
as we walk through Herastrau again,
hike into Busteni and up the mountain again
and let's stop for pictures by the trail marker again—
Let's head over to Jeff and Sheila's and play spades again,
wait outside the apartment for Sarah and Jason again,
take the cable car to get drunk at high altitudes
in Colorado again, or Wallachia again, or Budapest
as the moon rises behind a palace lit up for tourists again,
the seven bridges we cross until we're sure it's Buda again—
Let's leave the market in Istanbul without the plate again,
find the mosque where we watch prayer call again,
on the Friday of my twenty-ninth birthday again—
Let's take all of the years and make them one year again—
Let's live eleven months, six days, and twenty-two hours again
in the city in which I love you again,
in a room that is our home again,
as you walk the steep stairwell and out to the curb again
and let's not say too much about this or each other again,
for each other because we are each other's again,
this one day that is only one day again.


Eighteen Months

(n.) “Compulsion to move.” A chess term referring to a situation in which a player would like to do nothing (pass), since any move will damage his position.

Not that it mattered in the beginning
but there were patterns. I saw three moves
to your bishop, six to your rook, nine to your queen
and then a slow game of pawns. Almost at mate,
I forgot the axes running to the corners,
failed to anticipate your casual sweep of the lanes,
one side of my board plucked clean like a branch of wild
anything. You opened a window to let out the heat.
We started again. It felt good to keep playing,
to do one thing well over and over again.
Maybe that's why I liked
the pizza place around the block that burnt our crusts,
why you could not wait to move uptown,
away from the martinis, mochas, and Marc Jacobs.
Our new home was several blocks from anywhere.
Half a mile out the buoy lights shined like rosary beads.
If we were quiet and mindful the trees around the lake
shook when we walked beneath them.

The New Beautiful

Nine Months

When I held your shoulders the city caught fire.
Everything leaned into everything like timber.
I haven't loved you like this for years.
Tell me, again, what we loved about the city
that summer afternoon the balconies went silent,
as you held a camera over the rail and took pictures
of the unfamiliar faces
passing one building, then the next,
like the sound of birds. This wanting the old construction,
the new beautiful
blueprints. Show me what stands in my place.


Katie Ghazals

i. Busteni

The corners of the room lampshade every shadow.
Full of answers, they resemble everything.
When the police found your pack I was afraid to open it.
You'd filled it that morning with clothes and books for the week.
I untied from the handle a bandana we'd bought in town that morning.
At night it reaches down from the closet shelf like spring growth.
A vine reaching in every direction.
In photos the knapsack is as long as your torso.
Outside the Orthodox chapel: colleagues, friends, priests, a diplomat.
Wreaths of fresh flowers, candle wicks sunk in wax.
The mortician dresses your body in khakis and a silk blouse.
Nothing that we transform becomes you.
I wash your bandana and wear it as I walk without you.
A city that could be any city: unexceptional except for the arriving.
We do it alone, Katie; we mark among the living ghosts of those we love.
We never quite make our peace.

ii. Indianapolis

The first time we visited you said your niece drew remarkable horses.
Her sister bit strangers. A nephew would soon turn one.
The biter loved to be thrown in the deep end.
The budding hippologist watched carefully that whole first visit.
Improvising riddles, we entertained the neighbors' kids.
What is the difference between a female wizard and a male witch?
Your brother kept whiskey in the basement with his amps.
Trying the steel, then the Spanish classical; clumsily strumming one chord.
Your sister-in-law mixed her signature cocktail, The LaPlantini.
Outsiders to the clan, she and I bonded over movies, books, music, brantówka.
The biter woke you one afternoon, when Ed and I went to a movie.
"So, Katie, is John your boyfriend?"
Making good time back to Chicago I always hoped we'd hit traffic.
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road re-starting outside Lafayette.
Tonight, Chase shreds Pat Benatar on Guitar Hero.
Beth opens boxes and separates your clothes by size.
We make bundles to take to your sister, her kids, your mother.
Chloe, the biter, and Emma, the hippologist, claim sweatshirts; Chase sleeps in your ringer t's.
Later, when the house is quiet, I steal lines from other elegies:
In another room, Keri Te Kenawa is singing the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly.

iii. Bucharest

An avenue barely wide enough to walk is the shortest route through the park.
It bares a trinity of paths around the empty fountain.
The gilt dome of the boathouse shades poplars and pear blossoms.
A basket of warm pretzels wilts yesterday's newspaper.
At the city mausoleum, pigeons spiral the cornices.
Pushed through Nescafe cups, candle wax marks the path of mourners.
The cooks at the beer gardens pickle their winter salads.
Ceapa, Ciuperci, Usturoi, Soté de Morcovi.
Paddleboats in the moonlight shiver and tap like magnets.
The place in you in which the whole universe dwells.
Oolong with jasmine or syrupy dark lager?
Overnight train through the mountains or the morning plain?
Mid-day, Cismigiu Lake is antiseptic green; at sunset, the warm tincture of iodine.
Between red and blue tulips, white waxflower.
Tonight, Katie, Cismigiu Lake is black.

iv. Miami

All night, the moon bowls sea-glass under its clockwork tide.
Royal palms swipe their tops at the sea's gummy words.
Water in Miami reaches everywhere; plastic kayaks stocked on shelves.
On break, grocery clerks trace cigarettes across the damp night's words.
Vinegar and spices soften chicken on the bone.
Wearing down this wood, a cell phone or the ragged click of words?
Downing dollar drafts and nickel wings at the only bar in Kankakee.
"C" stitched on a wool cap, long in the tooth, wordless.
In 1908 electric coasters looped the provisional city.
A century later a woman collects insurance and cleaves her family word by word.
The one Springsteen song Katie liked to sing while driving: "One Step Up."
A country cover, she taught herself all of the words.
After an ugly fight we sat quietly in the apartment.
You said, "Now, here is the problem with being good at words."

v. Bucharest (2)

The city is my ancestor.
Perpetual, rebuilt, it discards itself like last year's fashions.
A fire tower shines its irregular beacon across the train yards.
It plays havoc on passing Mercedes and Peugeots.
Near the metro, at night, Soviet-era pensioners beg for spare change.
The accordion players wait outside Pizza Hut.
Teenagers stub cigarettes with silent, careless hands.
Siblings confide in each other; everyone makes excuses.
The prices of beef double in three months.
The British and French buy mountain villas; Germans crowd the Black Sea.
Heineken wins the city beer contract.
Through spring, a last impossible keg pours round after round of Leffe.
Students practice irony, citing the failures of all revolutions.
The President is impeached and retains his post, a hero to the working class.
Beer gardens fill with World Cup enthusiasts.
My first night in the city we cheer the Italians, boo the Americans.

vi. Busteni (2)

What tends a flame or the space around a flower?
What lifts blossoms from reeds without perpetuating grief?
What attenuates the soul so that it lifts like a prayer?
Who withstands this world not thinking first of grief?
In the clearing, deer measure the distance of passing cars.
Isn't the winter ground, too, a gesture of grief?
The names of saints linger like seasons bearing witness.
In any season, they distinguish resurrection and grief.
Among these beatitudes, let there be grace.
Let me sit where we spread your ashes, Katie, making peace with grief.

vii. Chicago

Uptown, late autumn, three blocks from our first apartment.
In a side room, the tattoo artist shrugs, "We get a lot of widowers."
Ink in the skin, rounding the shoulder in slender branches.
A tree with no leaves shades a green apple.
Cut back where an elm over-hangs the path, short grass crowds the lake.
Missing one friend's wedding to miss another.
Ivy fills in the outfield walls. The Cubs win six in a row.
All September: hysterical to sing the seventh-inning stretch.
The Kopi Café stocks its signature carrot cake.
This year, on your birthday, it comes topped with a whipped-cream carrot.
Anonymous: "Sorrow for a husband is like a pain in the elbow, sharp and short."
Plath: "Widow. The word consumes itself."
All spring, I wake half a dozen times in the night.
I wait for dreams; in them, I never know what to say.

viii. Fundata

Snow lifted from the ridge all morning and afternoon.
We withstood the cold to take photos.
Home from school, the owner's daughter walked us to the lake.
Near the fence, you lost your shoe in spring mud.
Cheese curds swung from branches; in season, plum brandy.
We spread cured pig fat like butter on fresh bread.
The man who rented cabins kept dogs in a basement pen.
He isolated them from human contact to teach them loyalty.
Through steel fencing: the low howl of indiscriminate need.
Drunk, the owner let us stroke their soft bellies.
At night I hear the ceiling fan whir.
To whom will I testify? Who bears witness to the listening?

ix. Indianapolis (2)

The scent of rain fills this small room beside the garage.
Why sleep all afternoon? Why sleep at all if I return to my body?
Indiana floods. Pumpkin vines poke through the soil.
Chloe weeds her garden and plants our wedding flower by the door.
The old dog: how its diminished hip fills with fluid.
Listing so badly the body can make no accommodation.
Searching the grocery aisles for a box of your favorite crackers.
Panis angelicus fit panis hominum.
Chasing solemn libations with cheap beer.
What could we pour into the soil that will not soak through?
On the wall near my desk we tape ten photographs.
Thunderstorms streak the windows; your brother's house shakes.
The night you died, I held your body, terrified and numb.
There is no arrival or departure; I grieve for everything, Katie.

x. One Year

A climber makes a ridge sacred with her death.
She locates a point of reverence for other journeys.
Where the path curves away from train tracks: your meadow.
We stake a handmade sign that names the place.
Arête: a sharp ridge.
From the Latin arista: ear of wheat, fish bone, spine.
A mountain rises noticeably above the surrounding landscape.
The term has no standardized geological meaning; it is generally larger than a hill.
Grief: a cycle that seeks no clear resolution.
Nieces turn handstands on the gravel path and watch for snails.

xi. San Francisco

Divinity holds the soul like an ice sculpture; all shape falls away.
One by one, the neighbors return home and curtain their magnificent windows.
At the pool, a friend of Ed and Beth's says now is the time to buy land in the Bay Area.
On a map of the city, I circle neighborhoods near the homes of friends.
Artillery leveled city blocks to firebreak the 1906 Earthquake.
Unable to channel the sea, they built fire upon fire until it consumed itself.
There are many names for the logic and power of symbols.
We return to storage your most cherished possessions.
Hidden in the Tea Garden: sculptures and bridges.
I sip oolong with a friend where two paths converge across the water.
Reading Thich Nhat Hanh, I understand there is no absolute truth.
I accept that sorrow is only one manifestation of love.
In Bangladesh, all summer, we rode night buses through silent villages.
In monsoon season, on a single-lane highway, the drivers always made good time.
Driving west, I will cross plains, badlands, hills, mountains, beach.
I will stay with friends in cities we never visited together.
There is no season for grief, no year, no beginning or end to sorrow.
Reverent, when we say your name, love holds the rift a while.